I stare at Nicki Minaj. She smiles back at me from the glossy page. Her eyes sparkle. Beautiful. She is beautiful. But it bothers me. The long blonde hair. With her warm brown skin and her wide deep eyes, why ruin what God made and said, “That is good.”?
I call out to my favorite photography student, Dear Heart, who stands in the bookstore aisle gazing at the work of another artist. She is also beautiful, perfect the way she is with brown skin, warm brown eyes and a kind soul.
“I have never understood this. Why do African American women wear blonde hair? They are so beautiful the way they are.”
“Maybe it’s because they have been told their whole lives they needs to be lighter or white to be beautiful.”
It could be the calm way she spoke. The quietness of her voice. Her ability to answer immediately. Maybe it was because I know her story. I felt the sting this attitude brought to the life of someone who belongs to me. My Dear Heart.
The truth sunk deep. It gnawed at my heart from the inside. I started to feel it and I was overwhelmed. How do we teach an entire world to behold beauty differently? How do I teach myself? Is there anything I can do as white person that will not bring unintended consequences? I cannot join another committee. Is there anything I can fit in between swim lessons, the grocery store and paying bills?
I started a social experiment.
I point out to my daughter any and every positive thing about people who look different from us. “He is kind.” “She is wise.” “He is diligent.” “She is strong.” It is odd that I believe good things in my heart, but it takes intention to get my mouth to say it. The innate fear of different is a high hurdle. If I can practice that jump enough times muscle memory will take me where my heart wants to go.
I flirt with babies who look different from us. I stop in restaurants, malls, airports and trains. We play peek-a-boo, I try to get them to smile and I promise not to eat their ice cream. Innocent eyes can hold my gaze for what feels like hours. It takes courage to not look away until they do. Maybe if enough brown eyes can soak in enough blue eyes and green eyes full of love, they will experience healing instead of despair when we proclaim publicly all people are equal. Maybe my joy in a child will give the parents hope. May those eyes that haunt fuel me to hurdle the hidden fear with feet to spare.
Maybe we have to love someone who is different from us to even begin to understand.
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